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Air disruption not over yet: Fears of knock-on effect after computer glitch causes UK flights mayhem

By PA Reporters

The chaos that hit UK airports after a computer glitch could cause further flight mayhem on some of the nation's busiest plane routes over the weekend.

Dozens of flights were cancelled and many others delayed after a computer failure at Nats air traffic control headquarters yesterday afternoon.

"Following a technical fault with the flight data system used by air traffic controllers at Swanwick, Nats can confirm that the system has been restored to full operational capability and a thorough investigation is continuing to identify the root cause," Nats said at around 8pm last night.

"Although operational restrictions applied during the failure have been lifted, it will take time for flight operations across the UK to fully recover, so passengers should contact their airline for the status of their flight.

"We apologise for the impact that this issue has had, and the delays and inconvenience caused."

At least two flights from Heathrow to Belfast last night were cancelled while several were delayed, in particular from Gatwick, Luton, Stansted, Southampton, Liverpool and Edinburgh.

The company has ruled out a power outage as the source of the glitch at Nats' state-of-the-art £700m centre at Swanwick, Hampshire.

Airports as far north as Aberdeen and Edinburgh were affected by the computer problem. Other airports that reported delays included Manchester, Stansted and Luton.

Budget flier EasyJet said last night: "EasyJet has had to cancel 10 flights to and from London Gatwick. However, all aircraft which were earlier diverted have all now continued to their original destinations.

In addition, it is likely that other flights to and from the south of the UK will suffer delays this evening."

The airline said it had cancelled two Gatwick-bound flights scheduled for today.

Gatwick Airport said last night: "Some cancellations should be expected and passengers are advised to contact their airline for the latest flight information.

"All departing flights were affected for a period but the situation is improving and we are hoping to restore a near normal service later this evening."

At Heathrow, a spokesman said there had been 70 cancellations out of about 1,300 scheduled flights.

"They're coming back to normal now," he said.

The airport has extra staff on duty and opened later than usual last night to try to get stranded passengers in the air, he said.

Any further flight cancellations will be up to individual airlines.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin described the disruption as unacceptable.

He said: "Any disruption to our aviation system is a matter of the utmost concern, especially at this time of year in the run-up to the holiday season."

Background

The state-of-the art air traffic control centre at Swanwick has a chequered history. With air traffic controllers cooped up in an old-fashioned west London HQ, it was decided in the late 1980s to have a spanking new centre at Swanwick. Originally the cost was going to be £132m and the move-in date was scheduled for 1997. But various problems meant costs rocketed and the switch constantly delayed. Eventually Swanwick opened in January 2002 - at a cost of £700m. Just over a year ago a technical problem on December 7, 2013, led to much flight disruption.

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